Snorkel+Dive Thailand

Snorkeling Koh Tao (The best snorkel spots)

The kooky Thai island of Koh Tao has long been a haven for scuba divers, snorkelers and backpackers seeking a mixture of subaqueous activities and laid back island life. For those hoping to dip their toe into the underwater world for the first time, snorkeling Koh Tao is a great place to start.

Our guide to snorkeling Koh Tao

Snorkeling Koh Tao was our very first taste of what South East Asia had to offer beneath the surface. We found ourselves drawn to its warm turquoise waters, easy access sites, great marine life and overall good island vibes.

In our opinion, Koh Tao is the perfect Thai island for entry level snorkelers. Here we take a look at 8 of the best places to snorkel in Koh Tao.

Aow Leuk

Turtle in Aow Leuk, Koh Tao
We often spotted turtles while snorkeling in Aow Leuk

Situated on the south side of the island, Aow Leuk is a large bay with gorgeous white sands and crystal clear waters. Beautiful reefs mostly made up of hard corals fringe either side of the bay.

Between underwater boulders and large coral bommies covered in colourful christmas tree worms, tiny glass fish sway in and out of the reefs cracks and crevices. Many types of fish can be spotted here including butterfly fish, titan triggerfish, lion fish, different types of rays, nudibranchs and lots of clown fish!

Although Aow Leuk is generally very quiet, there are times when it can get quite busy, especially if a boat full of tourists on a Koh Tao snorkeling tour arrive!

To beat the crowds, we like to follow the reef along the right hand side of the coastline for approximately 1.5km to a quiet spot, often referred to as Aow Leuk II. If you stay on neighbouring Sai Daeng beach like we did, its possible to access this section of Aow Leuk by climbing down the cliff face.

This spot is definitely one of the best places to snorkel in Koh Tao, and is easily one of our personal favourites.

Coral: Very Good
Fishlife: Excellent
Current: Mild
Experience: Beginner
Entry Shore or Boat
Location: Google Maps

Hin Wong Bay

night snorkeling in hin wong bay
Incredible glow in the dark brain corals at Hin Wong Bay

Hin Wong Bay is nestled between the signature cliffs of Koh Tao’s isolated north east coast. The easiest and most scenic way of reaching this spot is by longtail boat, and if you plan on doing a Koh Tao snorkeling day trip we highly recommend adding Hin Wong Bay to your itinerary.

Surrounded by rocks, a tiny beach can be found at Hin Wong Bays far end. This is the best place to make entry into the water since there are many boulders making access quite tricky.

Submerged islets and pinnacles sit within the bays clear waters and are home to some of the best corals in Koh Tao. These excellent hideouts offer an abundance of marine life including huge schools of sardines, large groupers, a variety of anemone species and plenty of colourful reef fish.

If you’re an adventurous snorkeler, it is possible to arrange for an exhilarating UV night snorkeling experience at Hin Wong Bay with Good Time Adventures on Sairee Beach. By wearing UV glasses over our masks and using a special UV torch, we witnessed an underwater disco of dancing corals in all kinds of fluorescent colours. This was our first ever taste of snorkeling at night, and since then we’ve been hooked!

Coral: Very Good
Fishlife: Good
Current: Mild
Experience: Beginner
Entry Shore or Boat
Location: Google Maps

Japanese Gardens

clown fish and anemone in japanese gardens, koh tao
The Japanese Gardens are full of beautiful anemone species

This snorkel spot is situated on the east side of Koh Nang Yuan, a gorgeous string of islands just a short 30 minute longtail ride away from Koh Tao.

The Japanese Gardens are well known to be a great dive site, however they also offer some of the best snorkeling in Koh Tao. The sandy shallows of this site are full to the brim with tiny fish.

Snorkeling out to the reef, beautiful corals begin to appear. There are gardens of anemones swaying to the tides, while brightly coloured clownfish in all shapes and sizes pop out from their homes to say hello.

If you plan on doing a Koh Tao snorkeling day trip, then we definitely recommend adding the Japanese Gardens to your itinerary – just make sure you get there early! We love snorkeling here, but only in the morning. Koh Nang Yuan attracts many day trippers from neighbouring Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, so we always try to arrive by 8am when the island is empty.

Coral: Good
Fishlife: Good
Current: Mild
Experience: Beginner
Entry Shore or Boat
Location: Google Maps

Sai Nuan

Coral Reef in Sai Nuan
There are so many friendly reef fish in the waters of Sai Nuan

We discovered Sai Nuan while staying at Charm Churee Village in Jansom Bay on Koh Tao’s south west coast. From the beach, we followed a pathway through the jungle which led to this incredibly picturesque hideout.

Inviting turquoise waters lap gently onto Sai Nuan’s sandy shores, and we could barely wait to grab our snorkels and jump in. Entering the shallows, we were surrounded by schools of friendly reef fish who followed us as we swam.

One of Koh Tao’s trademarks is its rugged coastline, and the big boulders surrounding Sai Nuan are no exception. They attract a wealth of fishlife and a few hard corals which fringe the rocks edges.

By following the rocks around to the left, we discovered a second inlet with a couple of rustic beach bars and bungalows – a great place for refreshments and home cooked Thai food.

Admittedly Sai Nuan is probably not one of the best Koh Tao snorkeling spots, but its overall ambience and seclusion is not to be missed.

Coral: Average
Fishlife: Average
Current: Mild
Experience: Beginner
Entry Shore or Boat
Location: Google Maps

Mango Bay

Coral Reef in Mango Bay, Koh Tao
Head north to Mango Bay to see plenty of schooling fish

The sheltered area of Mango Bay can be found on Koh Tao’s most northern point. It is a popular snorkel and dive spot that is accessible by a very steep (and rather treacherous) road. We prefer taking a longtail boat here, and recommend making this your second stop after the Japanese Gardens if you are doing a Koh Tao snorkeling tour.

There are some pretty epic schools of fish to be found lurking around the reefs dotted inside Mango Bay. Balls of yellow scad are a common siting, along with a large school of yellow tail barracuda which also like hanging out here.

The macro life around Mango Bay is also good, and the sandy seabed has some cute critter residents. Seahorses, mantis shrimp and nudibranchs can be seen if you look closely.

Mango Bay has a beautiful stretch of beach and two upmarket resorts, if you wanted to stay on this part of Koh Tao.

Coral: Very Good
Fishlife: Good
Current: Mild
Experience: Beginner
Entry Shore or Boat
Location: Google Maps

Tanote Bay

Snorkeling with Octopus in tanote bay, koh tao
An octopus in disguise in the shallows of Tanote Bay

Tanote Bay is an excellent place for snorkeling in Koh Tao. The reefs start almost immediately from the shore. At low tide, entry can be quite tricky since the corals are extremely shallow, so it is important to proceed with caution to avoid stepping on anything or accidentally scraping your skin.

There are abundant staghorn, brain and table corals which slope gradually to approximately 18 metres. The warm shallows attract baby black tip sharks, which can even be spotted from the surface since the visibility at Tanote Bay is so good.

Around 30 metres out, there is a huge boulder which sits in the middle of the bay. The reefs surrounding are quite deep, but really interesting to explore. They are also home to a wealth of marine species such as hawksbill turtles, octopus, angelfish, groupers and lots of lovely anemones.

Coral: Very Good
Fishlife: Very Good
Current: Mild
Experience: Beginner
Entry Shore or Boat
Location: Google Maps

Shark Island

Snorkeling shark island, koh tao
The strong currents around Shark Island attract a lot of diverse marine life

Snorkeling Koh Tao is relatively accessible thanks to the islands off-shore reefs and calm conditions. But, if you’re anything like us then you may be on the hunt for somewhere a bit more challenging…

Approximately 800 metres from the shores of Sai Daeng beach, there is a small fin-shaped islet which juts from the depths of the ocean. Aptly named Shark Island is one of Koh Tao’s best dive sites, but it is also great for snorkeling.

This site offers some of Koh Tao’s most diverse coral species including colourful sponges, tubes and gorgonian fans. Hiding underneath the many outcrops and overhangs are blue spotted rays, butterfly fish, octopus, filefish, turtles and often passing sharks.

Due to the islands positioning, the currents here are strong but staying close to the rocks helps shelter you while admiring what is down below.

We kayaked to Shark Island from Koh Tao, but this is only really recommended on days when the sea is flat and there is little to no wind.

Coral: Good
Fishlife: Very Good
Current: Medium to strong
Experience: Intermediate
Entry Shore or Boat
Location: Google Maps

Thian Og Bay (Shark Bay)

Cuttlefish in sharks bay
Although coral bleaching is quite noticeable in Thian Og Bay there is still lots of great creatures to be found!

With the Haad Tien Beach Resort at its heart, privately owned Thian Og Bay is probably one of Koh Tao’s ‘poshest’ spots.

Thian Og Bay is also referred to as ‘Shark Bay’ since the waters here are known to be a nursery for baby black tip sharks. The warm shallows are mostly full of dead and damaged corals which in fairness is not the most welcoming sight, however the sharks seem to love it here!

In our opinion, the best stretch of reef runs from the Cape Shark Pool Villas. By following the cliffs around the bay, there are plenty of fish, pretty corals and sometimes even hawksbill turtles. The surge and current can be quite strong around the corner of the rocks, therefore a good set of fins are a must.

Coral: Average
Fishlife: Good
Current: Mild – Medium
Experience: Beginner
Entry Shore or Boat
Location: Google Maps

Getting to Koh Tao’s snorkel spots

Many people rent a scooter to help them get around Koh Tao, but after discovering how hard to reach some of the beaches are due to the steep terrain and rough roads, we decided that travelling on two wheels was not the safest way to sample all the different snorkel spots.

Taxi cars and longtail boats are a great option if you plan on doing a Koh Tao snorkeling tour, however we found the most cost effective and enjoyable way of reaching Koh Tao’s snorkel spots was by kayak. By basing ourselves on Sai Daeng in the south, we were able to paddle along the coastline to many excellent reefs including Thian Og Bay, Aow Leuk, Tanote Bay and Shark Island.

The beauty of snorkeling Koh Tao is that most reefs are accessible directly from the islands fantastic beaches, and with a huge variety of resorts and rustic bungalows situated directly on the shore, finding somewhere to stay is super easy.

Planning a snorkel trip to Koh Tao?

If you’re planning a snorkel trip soon, make sure you check out our essential packing list for snorkelers.  Or for more snorkel destination inspiration, take a look at some of our other favourite snorkel spots.

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